Samsung Galaxy Note 7 full review
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Update 11 October (part 2): Just hours after the below news, Samsung has decided to permanently discontinue the Galaxy Note 7. "We can confirm the report that Samsung has permanently discontinued the production of Galaxy Note7," the firm said in a statement.
Update 11 October: Following the continued issues with Note 7 batteries, Samsung has finally decided to stop sales completely, and the exchange programme, while it investigates further. This could well be the end of the Note 7 for good but we'll be keeping an eye on the situation going forward. For now, power down and do not use the Note 7 if you have one. Take it back to the retailer for a refund or to exchange it for a different model.
Samsung said: "We are working with relevant regulatory bodies to investigate the recently reported cases involving the Galaxy Note7. Because consumers’ safety remains our top priority, Samsung will ask all carrier and retail partners globally to stop sales and exchanges of the Galaxy Note7 while the investigation is taking place."
"We remain committed to working diligently with appropriate regulatory authorities to take all necessary steps to resolve the situation. Consumers with either an original Galaxy Note7 or replacement Galaxy Note7 device should power down and stop using the device and take advantage of the remedies available."
Update 10 October: After seemingly replacing phones and batteries successfully, Samsung has halted production of the Note 7 due to more problems. Via The Verge, a total of three replacement device have caught fire. Two US mobile networks have stopped selling the phone. Until Samsung sorts out this major issue we don't advice purchasing a Note 7. Samsung said: "We are temporarily adjusting the Galaxy Note7 production schedule in order to take further steps to ensure quality and safety matters."
Head to this Samsung page if you have a Note 7 which needs replacing or contact the retailer you purchased it from for a full refund.
Update 2 September 2016: The Note 7 should have gone on sale today, but Samsung has had to stop sales and offer to replace handsets that are already with customers following an issue being found with its battery cells. According to an official statement from Samsung, "there have been 35 cases that have been reported globally and we are currently conducting a thorough inspection with our suppliers to identify possible affected batteries in the market. However, because our customers’ safety is an absolute priority at Samsung, we have stopped sales of the Galaxy Note 7." A company statement on the Samsung Korea site appears to suggest this delay will push back the on sale date by a couple of weeks.
Samsung UK has offered the following information: "For UK customers who already have Galaxy Note 7 devices, we will voluntarily replace their current device with a new one over the coming weeks. For more information customers need to contact the customer service team on 0330 7261000."
It's no secret that Samsung has launched the Galaxy Note 7, a new smartphone for 2016 aiming to be one of the best Android phones you can buy. Instead of waiting until IFA in Berlin, Samsung has announced the Note 7 at various locations around the globe. Here's our Samsung Galaxy Note 7 review. See also: Best phones.
Before we dive into the review, you might be wondering what happened to the Galaxy Note 6 – considering the Note5 didn't even get a proper UK launch. Well Samsung wants to keep the Note range in-line with the Galaxy S range. Afterall, it does make sense if all the phones launched in the same year have the same model number.
Samsung Galaxy Note 7 review: Price UK
The Galaxy Note7 release date in the UK is 2 Septmber with the option to pre-order from 16 August. The Note7 price, via MobileFun, is £749 SIM-free which is rather expensive. Carphone Warehouse has it SIM-free for a slightly more reasonable price of £699.
If you pre-order then you'll get the phone three days early and Samsung will also throw in a free GearVR when you buy from selected retailers so look out for the deal.
Although the price is pretty high, when you consider that the iPhone 6S Plus with 64GB of storage is also £699, the Note 7 doesn't seem so bad. After all, the iPhone doesn't have features such as the S Pen, expandable storage, waterproofing and more.
Also see: Best Galaxy Note 7 deals.
Samsung Galaxy Note 7 review: Design and build
When it comes to design, Samsung has struck a nice balance of retaining the look of the Note series while bring the style of the Galaxy S7. In this case, particularly the Galaxy S7 edge as the new Note7 has the dual edge curved screen as standard.
What's quite amazing here is that the Note7 doesn't feel like a phablet despite the screen size remaining at 5.7in. It's not much bigger than the S7 edge and the device feels more manageable than ever which is very impressive.
This slab of metal and glass looks and feels great, although be wary of the rear cover as the slippery glass means the device is likely to slide out of your pocket when sitting down or make its way slowly off the edge of a sofa arm.
Build quality is up to the usual high standards which we've come to expect from Samsung with smooth flushness where materials meet, precision drilled holes and the like. The Note7 is available in a range of colours including Gold Platinum, Silver Titanium, Black Onyx and Blue Coral. The latter is an eye-catching combination of blue and gold as you can see in our pictures.
We're pleased to report that the Note7 is the first in the range to be waterproof, matching up to the S7 in more than just looks. You can now dunk your Note7 thanks to its IP68 rating (1.5m of water for up to 30 minutes and dustproof) and as we've become accustomed to, there's no need to fiddle with port covers or even make sure the S Pen is in the slot. This is even more impressive considering the S Pen is stored inside the phone. Even the S Pen is water resistant so you can carry on using it in the rain or dunk it, too.
A minor issue but one which may annoy some users (on our sample anyway) is a small groove between the glass and metal at the top of the screen which we found collects dust and dirt. This may well vary between units.
Optional accessories include a Lens Cover, waterproof battery cover and a new GearVR headset which is compatible wth the Note7 thanks to USB-C. See also: Samsung Galaxy Note 7 vs iPhone 6s Plus
Samsung Galaxy Note 7 review: Hardware and specs
Note 7 screen
Sticking to tradition, the Galaxy Note7 has a 5.7in display so users of previous Note phones will feel right at home. Despite rumours of a 4- or even 6K resolution, Samsung has sensible stuck to QuadHD (1440x2560) which it uses on the S7 handsets.
It's still a gorgeous display using the firm's favoured SuperAMOLED technology with the added bonus of the dual edge. It works in the same way as the S7 edge so you have a subtle curve on either side unlike the 2014 Galaxy Note Edge which had a large curved section on one side. As you can see below, the screen looks like a glossy magazine and the lack of bezels makes it look great.
It can be used for various things such as quickly accessing your favourite contacts or apps – we'll talk more about it in the software section. Samsung has also brought over its 'always on' screen feature (which is optional). This means even when you turn the display off, it will show you some information like the time and some notifications.
You may have noticed that the Note 7 is the 'mobile HDR-compatible' so like recent TVs it offers better contrast and detail. You'll only be able to experience this with some content but with the examples we tried on Amazon Prime Video, we couldn't see any difference. It still looks great, though.
Note 7 performance
Bringing the Note range up to speed, quite literally, the Note7 is powered by the same processor found in the Galaxy S7 – that's Samsung's own Exynos 8890 which, in the S7, we found more than capable. In some markets the phone comes with Qualcomm's Snapdragon 820 but we're dealing with the 8890 here in the UK.
The Note 7 has 4GB of RAM despite rumours of 6GB which means the OnePlus 3 remains in its exclusive club.
While benchmark results are nice and high, see below, the phone isn't quite as tip-top when it comes to user-perspective which is more important really. We've found the phone, on occasion, to exhibit small amounts of lag and jerkiness in general use. This could be opening an app, switching to another and other things.
It's by no means a huge problem – it's smooth the vast majority of the time - but at this price, you might expect flawless performance. It's not just us either, as plenty of other publications have reported on the issue.
Note 7 storage
When it comes to storage, the Galaxy Note7 comes with 64GB as standard and retains the Micro-SD card slot for adding more (up to 256GB). A good move since the Note5 didn't have one and nor did the Galaxy S6 which wasn't met with gratitude from users.
Beyond the core specs, the Note7 is packed with tech – almost to the point where we're struggling to find something which it hasn't got.
Note 7 connectivity and sensors
Samsung has decided to finally employ USB-C (see below for more details). The phone also has fast wireless charging (WMA and PMC), 11ac Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.2, GPS, NFC, heart rate sensor, a fingerprint scanner and the rumoured iris scanner. The only thing missing, which has been dropped on other phones too is the infrared port which would be for using the phone as a remote control.
Note 7 USB-C and battery life
It was something of a shock that Samsung didn't make the switch to USB-C on the Galaxy S7 phones but has now done so with the Note 7. The port is reversible making it easier to plug in but also offers faster charging and, in theory, data transfer rates faster than USB 3.0.
In our charging test, using the supplied 'Adaptive Fast Charging' charger, we found the Note 7 took one hour and 15 minutes to go from 0-100 percent. That's not bad considering the large 3500mAh capacity.
In our real-world test, the Note 7 battery life is reasonable but perhaps not as stamina-tastic as you might hope with the 3500mAh battery. With a 'normal' and varied usage, we found that after 24 hours, the Note 7 has less than 15 percent juice left.
The only downside for some is the fact that it's non-removable so don't throw away that power bank if you have one.
Note 7 Iris Scanner
The iris scanner is one of the key new features of the Note 7 which used a combination of the front camera and an LED sensor to check whether your eyes are in fact yours. It works in a similar way to Windows Hello which we enjoyed on the Lumia 950 phones. It's easy enough to set up but not so much when it comes to actually using it.
There are two main issues we've found with the iris scanner which makes it somewhat irritating. The first is simple that you have to wake the screen and swipe on the lockscreen to activate it which is just far too many steps considering how easy it is to simply touch the fingerprint scanner instead.
The other is that it's simply quite flaky. When setting it up, you're presented with a huge list of warnings and caveats about not using it too close to your face, wearing glasses, lighting conditions and the like. Even though I wear glasses I tried it without and it doesn't seem to help much and it struggled indoors let alone outside in strong sunlight.
When it works, it's fast but the Note 7, more often than not, tells you to do things like hold the phone higher (why can't you look down at the phone?) and open your eyes fully – you end up pulling faces at the device while looking like you're hunting for cellular signal.
Note 7 S Pen stylus
The Note7 wouldn't be a Galaxy Note phone without the S Pen stylus which, as usual, slots into the phone on the bottom. The stylus works in the same way as previously and can be used to both replace your finger as an input device for navigation but also note taking etc. It has a new 0.7mm tip, the previously mentioned water resistance and the Air Command menu now has a new additions which we'll talk about in the software section below.
Note 7 cameras
Moving onto cameras and the Note7 follows in the footsteps of the Galaxy S7 phones with a 12Mp camera (down from 16Mp but that doesn't mean it's worse). It's a Dual Pixel camera with optical image stabilisation (OIS), a very impressive f/1.7 aperture and 1.4um pixels.
Like its S7 brothers, the camera will shoot in auto-mode by default with a 4:3 aspect ratio. You'll need to drop to 9.1Mp in order to get 16:9 and there are a tonne of different modes to play with including Pro, Selective focus and Virtual shot.
You can launch the camera quickly with a double tap of the home button (even when the screen is off) which is handy and the Note 7 is able to focus and take multiple photos quickly – no one wants to wait around before being able to take a second shot.
Don't worry if the Pro mode is unsettling because you'll get fantastic photos from the Note 7 without changing a thing. Like the S7, it offers excellent levels of detail and colour. It can cope well with a wide-range of situations and conditions.
The video mode shoots in Full HD if you don't head into the settings and change it, but it's capable of recording in up to UHD 4K (3840x2560) which is worth trying out – although that will fill your storage up much quicker. You also get modes such as Slow motion (720p), Hyperlapse (1080p), Video collage and Live broadcast.
The front camera remains the same at 5Mp with features such as an f/1.7 aperture, wide-angle 22mm lens and the ability to record 1440p video. As with the S7 it's a great choice for selfies, offering good quality, easily fitting a few people into the frame and the ability to use the heart rate monitor as a trigger.
Samsung Galaxy Note 7 review: Software and apps
It comes as no surprise that the Galaxy Note7 comes with Android 6.0 Marshmallow pre-installed but it's not Samsung's own TouchWiz user interface.Instead, it's a new skin called Grace UX, a redesigned version of TouchWiz.
We assume that it will get an upgrade to the upcoming Android 7.0 Nougat but official confirmation is yet to come.
Long gone are the days when TouchWiz was a bit too crude, complicated and generally a bit over-the-top. Nowadays, the user interface is much cleaner and closer to stock Android but with useful additions presented in an easier way to handle. Grace UX has subtle differences like softer colours in the icons all add up.
Some elements look very different including the drop down menu (including quick actions) and the settings menu. The latter we're not so keen on as you can't scroll horizontally through the icons, instead you have five and can then pull down to reveal more. You can organise it to you liking but it's more awkward than before.
Other parts of the interface remain the same such as the upday news feed (swipe right from the main home screen) and the recent apps menu.
As you would expect, you get all the features found on the Galaxy S7 including Multi-Window, the ability to run two apps side-by-side, Pop-up view which lets you run some apps in a smaller window and smaller ones like smart capture, direct call and smart stay.
The larger screen works particularly well for things like Multi-Window and some users may find themselves reaching for a tablet a lot less because of the Note7. We're also pleased about the dual edge display which can be used for a range of things, even if we didn't find ourselves using it loads on the S7 edge.
You can do various things with the edge screen software including get quick access to your favourite contacts, apps and tools with different panels. You can also use feeds to get info such as your step count and notifications - these scroll along the side - and lighting means you know who's calling when the phone is face down.
One of the main reasons to buy the Note7, particularly in comparison to the S7 phones, is the S Pen stylus. Not a massive amount has changed here so you still pop it out of the bottom whenever you want to use it.
The Air Command menu gives you plenty of options but bear in mind that you can simply use the S Pen to navigate if you like which is great when you need to be precise (spreadsheets and the like) or you don't want to get the screen grubby when eating or similar situations.
New features of the S Pen include the ability to create gifs and translate language with it on the fly which is pretty cool. Like the phone, it's also waterproof, so you can use it even when the screen is wet although you're best off drying it first.
The phone comes with the Game Launcher as introduced on the S7 and pre-installed apps include Samsung's own as well as Microsoft offerings like Word and Skype.
Read next: Best new phones
Samsung Galaxy Note 7: Specs
- Android 6.0 Marshmallow
- 5.7in QuadHD super AMOLED display
- Exynos 8890 processor
- 4GB RAM
- 64GB storage
- Micro-SD card slot
- Fingerprint sensor
- heart rate monitor
- Iris scanner
- 802.11ac dual band Wi-Fi
- Bluetooth 4.2
- S Pen
- 12Mp rear camera
- 5Mp front camera
- 3500mAh non-removable battery
- Wireless charging